Rhyme and Reason: A Glance at Classic Arab Love Poetry

by Anisa Benmoktar on December 5, 2009

Love poetry in the form of letters has been a part of Arabic culture for centuries. Not just a way of expressing feelings, these intricate and eloquent declarations of love were also a sign that their author was educated and cultured.

From that day to this, classic Arabic love letters have generally fallen into one of 4 categories:

Sacred Love Poems

Sacred love poems often invoked God, as He is all loving and contains sacred or spiritual over tones. These half hymn-half poems speak more of beauty and emotional union that of physical love, although they often include depictions of physical beauty.

Profane Love Poems

In Arabic tradition, a profane love poem is essentially a secular poem, and one that doesn’t encompass a spiritual or higher realm of romance.

There is a school of thought, however that argues that “profane” love poetry is an allegory for spiritual truth and that any poem (profane or otherwise) that speaks of love also speaks of faith, spirituality and a higher plane of romance.

Illicit Love Poems

An Arabic love letter may also be considered illicit, by other nations’ standards. Classic Arab poetry includes a piece entitled “A Father Advises his Son About Love.” (Sounds perfectly reasonable to me!)

Illicit love may also refer to a secret love that has to remain hidden for a whole variety of reasons. Often in these poems, love is hinted at but never really spelt out.

Mystical Love Poems

A mystical Arab love poem is one, which has power in the words that are pronounced. These poems are customary as a way of winning the love of the person to whom you are writing it. Mystical love poems can also spark controversy, such ass Ibn al-Farid’s love poem of the Sufi Way.

The fact that the Beloved — God — is referred to as “Her,” rather than in the traditional masculine gender caused plenty of waves back in the day when the poem was published. Unfortunately Ibn’s misconstrued intention is thought to have been a celebration of the fact that God is both man and woman at once.

Goes to show I guess that poetry, like any other art and rather like love itself, depends on how you interpret it!

LoveHabibi - Arab & Muslim Dating, Friendship and Marriage

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